Universal // 2010 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // February 8th, 2011
Sometimes what's in your head isn't as crazy as you think.
Adapted from a popular 2006 novel of the same name, It's Kind of a Funny Story is the latest directorial foray from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. They were responsible for 2006's Oscar contender Half Nelson (a film I still haven't seen) and more recently the 2008 sports drama Sugar (which I did see, and was mildly impressed with). It's Kind of a Funny Story represents easily the pair's most mainstream effort to date, a fact maybe not too far detached from the general opinion that it's currently their least engaging work. It's Kind of a Funny Story isn't an awful feature, but it's definitely a mediocre one at best. The movie packs one or two pleasant surprises, but ultimately it's a relatively inferior coming of age tale.
Craig (Keir Gilchrist, The Rocker) isn't a happy teen; pressures within his family and tensions amongst his friends having driven the youngster to consider suicide. Instead of throwing himself off a bridge (an image he often fantasizes about), Craig checks into a mental health clinic, much to the relief of those around him. Whilst there he meets people far more troubled than himself, namely Bobby (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover), a charismatic patient with a dislike for discussing his disrupted past. Bobby quietly helps Craig understand that life isn't so bad, and aids him in pursuit of fragile fellow inmate Noelle (Emma Roberts, Hotel for Dogs). Soon Craig realizes that he is actually in possession of a fortunate and blessed existence, deciding instead to focus his energy on improving the lives of his newfound friends.
The first thing to say about It's Kind of a Funny Story is that it kind of isn't. Obviously the film dabbles in some pretty tragic themes (mental illness, suicide, and chronic isolation but to name a few), yet even during the instances where it attempts to stimulate laughter, the movie falls on its own quirky sword. Boden and Fleck force an infuriatingly twee indie sensibility into It's Kind of a Funny Story, resulting in moments more likely to irritate than charm. One sequence in particular, which features an imaginary Glam Rock concert, sums up the picture's annoyingly oddball comic ambitions rather too accurately. Of course with Galifianakis onboard it would be impossible to describe It's Kind of a Funny Story as being completely laugh free, but the picture cuts it pretty close most of the time.
There's the potential for an invigorating and insightful drama here, but the screenplay and casting choices undercut much of the promise. Keir Gilchrist doesn't do much aside from mope as Craig, failing to make the character seem like anything other than a self-obsessed bore. Boden and Fleck's uneven script doesn't help matters (it's a tremendously messy piece of writing), but ultimately Gilchrist can't even conjure the basic levels of sympathy the part demands. Emma Roberts is equally underserved by the filmmakers, but overall does a marginally better job as Noelle. The actress struggles when having to interact with the frozen Gilchrist, but at least musters a believable sense of inner turmoil. You'd think that would be priority number one for a thespian portraying a mental patient, but most of the cast in It's Kind of a Funny Story seem to have bypassed such a necessity. These criticisms can't however be leveled at Galifianakis , the comedian balancing humor and heartbreak solidly. It's not like the character of Bobby is fleshed out more successfully than any other figure, but Galifianakis plasters the role with a subtle sadness that makes him compelling. It's a welcome change for a performer who was in dire need of showing a little extra versatility.
The film's scrappy structure means that most elements thrown into the pot are resolved in a half-baked fashion. Noelle and Craig's burgeoning romance feels rushed and unjustified for the majority of the project, a fact not helped by Gilchrist and Roberts' obvious lack of chemistry. The only consistently intriguing figure is Bobby, but Boden and Fleck don't even round out his character in a particularly memorable or satisfying way. Adding to the picture's woes are a series of undernourished subplots, most notably those involving Craig's family (which includes a wasted Lauren Graham), and his lust for close friend Nia (Zoe Kravitz, The Brave One). All of these components feel more like plot mechanics than anything else; It's Kind of a Funny Story failing to attack the issues with anything harder than a feeble narrative touch. Mental illness isn't really given much of a proper treatment either, Boden and Fleck seemingly arriving at the conclusion that it's more cute than scary.
The DVD looks fair and sounds adequate, but the image is perhaps a little too soft at times. It's Kind of a Funny Story has been equipped with a limp selection of extras. The deleted scenes included make for a curious watch, primarily because the film would be a more resonant product had a handful of them been left in. A featurette on the making of the film runs for a pathetic 3 minutes, even shorter is a clip reel from the movie's New York premiere. 10 minutes of outtakes add a little beefiness, but aside from a goofy Galifianakis contribution it's unexciting.
It's kind of a crappy movie.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes